02/11/2016 1:36PM

Lady Sabelia, Hot City Girl will battle in Barbara Fritchie

Jim McCue/Maryland Jockey Club
Lady Sabelia (right) wins the Willa On the Move Stakes at Laurel Park on Dec. 5.

Hot City Girl and Lady Sabelia will be the top choices in the $300,000 Barbara Fritchie at Laurel Park on Saturday, and they appear to have the sharpest early speed. While the seven-furlong Fritchie isn’t a match race, it certainly could be decided on the front end.

The Grade 2 Fritchie headlines the first day of Laurel’s winter carnival, which concludes Monday with the Grade 3, $250,000 General George. There are two $75,000 supporting stakes each day. The weather is forecast to only reach the teens in Maryland on Saturday and then gradually warm up to about 30 degrees by Monday.

Hot City Girl didn’t race from the end of June until mid-September last season, even though trainer Linda Rice did enter her and then scratch from the Prioress after drawing the rail. She has since taken her game to a different level.

“We backed off last summer and kept her in light training at Belmont Park,” Rice said. “During that time, we could see she was showing improvement.”

:: Laurel Park: Buy PPs, watch Saturday’s card live

Hot City Girl returned to the races in the Grade 3 Charles Town Oaks, which she won easily. She has since won an optional-claiming race at Belmont, the Safely Kept at Laurel, and finished a close second in the Grade 1 La Brea at Santa Anita.

“We added blinkers for the Charles Town race because it was at night and we wanted her to focus,” Rice said. “She has responded to them very well.”

Hot City Girl is a half-sister to La Verdad, the champion female sprinter of 2015.

“They are very different,” Rice said. “While La Verdad’s best distance was six to 6 1/2 furlongs, I think Hot City Girl is capable of going a little farther, possibly 6 1/2 furlongs to a mile, with seven furlongs a perfect fit.”

Possible upcoming races for Hot City Girl include four Grade 1 stakes, according to Rice: the Madison at Keeneland, the Humana Distaff at Churchill Downs, the Ballerina at Saratoga, and the Breeders’ Cup. Rice said she would like to give Hot City Girl a 60-day turnout at some point.

Lady Sabelia, a winner of 10 of 18 career starts, won last year’s Fritchie and won’t be easy to dethrone. Trainer Robin Graham gave her a break last summer, during which she worked to get Lady Sabelia to relax early in her races. The result has been a blowout victory in the Pumpkin Pie Stakes at Belmont in November and a 1 3/4-length score in the Willa On the Move at Laurel in December.

Lady Sabelia, now 6, comes into the Fritchie off a 10-week break but has run well fresh throughout her career.

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Lady Sabelia, by Majestic Warrior

Last 3 Beyers: 91-101-82

◗ She is drawn outside Hot City Girl, which could be an advantage if she is able to sit just off her and either press or stalk.

Hot City Girl, by City Zip

Last 3 Beyers: 88-95-92

◗ She has set the pace in her last five races and should be in front again.

Dancing House, by Tapit

Last 3 Beyers: 90-89-89

◗ One of two in the race for Kiaran McLaughlin, she returned from a nine-month layoff to finish second to La Verdad in the Interborough at Aqueduct.

◗ She has tracking speed and could fall into a good early slot behind the leaders.

Princess Violet, by Officer

Last 3 Beyers: 86-86-83

◗ She finished second in the Fritchie last year for trainer Mike Hushion, who has won the race three times: My Wandy’s Girl (2014), Harissa (2011), and Golden Dawn (2008).

◗ This is scheduled to be her final career start.

Clothes Fall Off, by Daaher

Last 3 Beyers: 91-82-84

◗ Clothes Fall Off, trained by McLaughlin, comes into this off a 5 1/2-furlong track-record performance on the Aqueduct inner track.

◗ She takes a decided step up in class here.

Wonder Gal, by Tiz Wonderful

Last 3 Beyers: 79-83-89

◗ She was scheduled to run in a New York-bred optional claimer going 1 1/16 miles at Aqueduct on Feb. 5, but the card was canceled due to weather.

Sweet On Smokey, by Successful Appeal

Last 3 Beyers: 85-79-76

◗ She is vastly improved since being claimed for $12,500 by trainer Claudio Gonzalez in July but must overcome the tricky rail post position.